Photography is a catalyst of experience. What do we do when we’re are having a good time, drinking with friends or with a loved one? We pull out a camera and create a memory of that experience. We do this in hopes of bringing back that same emotional state at a later stage… So, all we’re doing is capturing an image that made us feel a certain way. The photograph becomes a reflection of the person we were that day, in that moment of time. The lens not only points at our subject, but at ourselves too. Whether you consider yourself a “photographer” or not, cast your mind back to when you saw something special. Maybe it was a stunningly vibrant sunrise, the new year’s fireworks, or an autumn leaf sitting in a puddle. What emotion made you pull out your camera? What where you trying to convey when you clicked that shutter button? Usually it’s a subconscious message in our head that caught our attention. We then made a conscious decision to act on it. Truly emotive photography captures that message precisely and conveys it to an audience. By fostering meaningful relationships within the landscape, we can hope not only to increase the quality of our imagery, but our enjoyment for the art itself.
I’ve personally found that dropping my expectations has dramatically increased my enjoyment for nature photography. With the seemingly unending bombardment of incredible landscape vistas a few thumb taps away, I totally understand the pressures of photographing the “perfect” composition under the “perfect light”. However, what do these types of images really bring to the table? Sure, they look incredible at first glance, but rarely do they hold a viewer’s attention. By creating more expressive scenes (placing emphasis on the core ‘message’ you’re trying to convey) we can begin to balance our portfolios.
For the first few years I was obsessed with dramatic weather and wide, iconic scenes. Huge foregrounds and dramatic leading lines were all I knew. I think most of us start that way, however it puts our minds in a bubble of unrealistic expectation. The sooner we can pop that bubble, the better.
So how do we build a relationship with a landscape/scene? Well for starters, whatever you’re composing needs to resonate with you. If it doesn’t carry some emotional weight, how can you expect your audience to give it more than a quick glimpse? Surely capturing moments that move us deserve more attention. The key is isolating a certain feeling and composing an image around it. Try and make your audience feel what you felt standing there.
“Memory selects single important images, just as the camera does. In that manner both are able to isolate the highest moments of living.” Galen Rowell
Create a mindset of utmost gratitude. No matter the conditions you’re presented with. Tell yourself how happy you are to be out in the field (with a camera or not) repetitively. Take deep, purposeful breaths. Concentrate on all the details before you, notice all the recurring textures, patterns, and forms. Follow the allure of natural light to guide your compositions. It’ll feel a little odd at first! However, true gratitude takes work and may not be a quality you can expect to attain from a single visit. Find a place that makes you feel something and keep going back. Be dedicated. See, don’t just look. Get up before dawn without checking forecasts for once. Maybe ditch your camera entirely and enjoy your chosen location with a different mindset.
“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on” Winifred Gallagher
Often, we work ourselves up over the environment we choose to shoot. Sometimes the light doesn’t pop quite how you imagined it, or the perfect forest scenes have seemingly dried up… However, is all that time spent pondering over the “could be” a good use of our energy? Surely not. Fretting over elements outside our boundaries of control proves fruitless. Instead of worrying about external factors (such as favourable weather/light) we should place more emphasis on our internal compass and use photography as a metaphor for personal growth. Learning how to manage your expectations is a critical tool and should be a priority when attempting to improve your skills as a nature photographer.
I have always found photography to be a highly introspective pursuit as it forces me to be contemplative. Not only to the landscape surrounding me, but the thoughts flowing through my mind. I’ll simply observe them, let them pass and await the next thought. Mindfulness and gratitude are two merits that seemingly go hand in hand with this art form. Quite often I find my subconscious in a delightful auto pilot. Even if my SD card is full of unfavourable images, every “failed” photograph represents a steppingstone to the scenes in my portfolio.
Ultimately, that’s the true appeal of this art form. Becoming totally open to the landscape and accepting an inherit lack of control over our natural environment. That’s where true creativity lies. So next time you’re out with your camera, try slowing down a little. You might be surpised with what you find.